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Building in Good Faith - Green Building Resource for Religious Institutions

Seven Jewish and Christian Theological Principles for Green Building (2)

God Created, Owns and Holds the Universe in Being

Central to Judaism and Christianity is the belief that all reality is created, owned and sustained by God. From creation accounts in Genesis 1-2 to Psalm 148 to God’s rebuke of Job in Job 38-40, numerous Biblical texts proclaim this basic belief. It is articulated concisely in 1 Chronicles, where David blesses God as David oversees the gathering of the materials for the building of the Temple.

David blessed the Lord before all the congregation; and said: 'Blessed are You, O the Lord, the God of Israel …. All that is in the heaven and in the earth is Yours; ... Both riches and honor come of You, and You rule over all. …. We thank You, and praise Your glorious name. But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able to offer so willingly after this sort? For all things come of You, and of Your own have we given You. … O the Lord our God, all this store that we have prepared to build You a house for Your holy name comes from Your hand, and is all Your own.

1 Chronicles 29:10-16

The New Testament contains the following Johannine and Pauline affirmations of the universe’s origins in and through the Christ. These passages emphasize God’s creative power, God’s ownership of the universe, and that God holds creation in being.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. … All things were made through the Word.

John 1: 1-3

Christ is the first-born of all creation, for in him all things were created in heaven and on earth. … He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

Colossians 1:15-17

Though the point is elementary from a theological perspective, we cannot overemphasize its significance. Judaism and Christianity teach that all the earth belongs to God. Human beings do not have unrestricted freedom to use Creation. It does not belong to us.

An Expression of God, Creation is Good, Holy and Fruitful. Green Building Supports these Aspects of Creation.

Creation’s Goodness

Unlike religions which teach that the world is to be escaped or transcended, Judaism and Christianity affirm creation’s goodness. Biblical texts give frequent voice to the goodness of creation. No such text is better known than the following, the conclusion to the harmonious order of the Biblical creation story:

“God saw all that God had made and behold, it was very good.”

Genesis 1:31

Creation points to, glorifies and serves God through the stunningly diverse ways in which it takes form. Consider this quotation from Thomas Aquinas, a pivotal Roman Catholic theologian.

“God produced many and diverse creatures, so that what was wanting to one in representation of the divine goodness might be supplied by another . . . hence the whole universe together participates in the divine goodness more perfectly, and represents it better than any single creature whatever."

(Summa Theologica, Prima Pars, question 48, ad 2)

Creation’s Holiness

In addition to affirming Creation’s goodness, Christianity and Judaism also affirm its holiness, its ability to participate in the divine. The Bible contains numerous accounts of God’s power actualized in and through specific places – the burning bush, the Jordan River, the Sea of Galilee. God enters Creation in specific places and times, filling them with holiness and divine power which change the course of history.

In most religious traditions, worshipping communities seek to capture their experience of holiness in rituals. However, the “raw” experience of holiness reflected in Biblical narratives often takes place outdoors. From a Biblical perspective, just as God is at home in heaven, God is most certainly at home in Creation.

Creation’s Ongoing Fruitfulness

In addition to being good and holy, Creation is also fruitful. It produces life in abundance. This fruitfulness, this remarkable creativity, serves as an expression of divine generosity. Both Judaism and Christianity recognize this fruitfulness as an attribute of God. We believe that the human community’s built environment is good if it respects creation’s fruitfulness.

Unfortunately, contemporary forms of building currently follow a more destructive route. Jason McLennan, a LEED-certified architect and author of The Philosophy of Sustainable Design, told us, “Our buildings make an enormous impact on the environment through their use of energy, water and other resources, the waste they produce, and their impact on human health. Most current building is contemptful of the environment, wasting natural resources and participating in the destruction of life.” By wasting water and energy, using toxic building products, siting their structures and managing runoff in an environmentally-disrespectful way, and by generating large amounts of building-related waste, conventionally-constructed religious buildings fail to support Creation’s fruitfulness and capacity to support life.

Green Building - Part of the Goodness, Holiness and Fruitfulness of Religious Buildings

Buildings do not need to cause environmental blight. As noted above, green building can protect biodiversity and ecosystems, conserve water and energy, improve water and air quality, reduce waste streams, conserve and restore natural resources, improve the health and productivity of building occupants, and build a market for environmentally healthy products.2 These outcomes reflect religious values. Incorporating these practices into religious buildings supports religious claims that their worship spaces are sacred spaces. By respecting Creation’s goodness and supporting its fruitfulness, green building practices can help make religious buildings “holy” in a new way.

Sacred spaces are designed to reflect the divine realm. Churches, for instance, have often been designed facing east, a reminder of the rising sun recalling Jesus’ resurrection. Human behaviors also contribute to a religious community’s ability to claim sacredness for its space. Racially segregated seating in churches, once common, has now become incompatible with the identity of sacred space. We believe that God is now calling religious communities to make their own sacred spaces into green buildings that support life.

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